The Guide to Training Your Cat

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Timing of rewards is critical. If a cat stops meowing for 3 seconds and you have to reach into your pocket for a food treat and then walk toward the cat to deliver it, the moment may have passed. Yet it is difficult to have primary rewards (food, water, toys) handy at all times so how can this best be managed?

The answer is using a “secondary reinforcer,” like praise or a neutral cue that signals that the primary reinforcer is due. For humans, money is a secondary reinforcer. It has little or no intrinsic value but signals to the recipient that they have performed well and that the real reward (what the money buys) will be forthcoming. In time, money alone reinforces the behavior (work) but it must retain its implied value or its attraction will eventually be lost (as in times of great inflation). In animal training, whistles and clicks have been used as secondary reinforcers, though you can also use your voice.


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